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Pam Chambers on Leadership: Clarity Leads to Power

At last week's Human Resources leadership training with Pam Chambers, the mantra of the session was "clarity leads to power." Chambers consistently reinforced the idea that good leaders clearly understand themselves and others and have the ability to clearly communicate to their team. Problems with leadership tend to occur when leaders are nebulous or unrealistic in their expectations of staff. The theme of clarity resonates with me as I often used to remind the struggling writers in my class of the following George Orwell quote:
The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.
The first portion of Pam Chambers' session focused on helping us understand our own career values and clarifying the characteristics of groups with whom we work.  In one of the early activities, Chambers had the group brainstorm the qualities of a good leader. Then we noted areas of strength and areas in need of improvement for one of our teams. She had us then take an inventory of our own personal values, so that we could see connections between our leadership style and the work style of our teams. For the leaders in my small group, some strengths we had in common were big picture thinking and altruistic career goals. We noticed that we could improve on delegation of tasks and improving work processes.

Next, Pam Chambers gave many personal anecdotes of leadership challenges she was able to overcome and leadership principles from other notable executive and coaches. One of Chambers' favorite leaders is Coach John Wooden of UCLA basketball fame. She recommends his book Wooden On Leadership above all others, and many of his Wooden-isms coincide with the idea of clarity.



Here are some of the leadership principles that John Wooden recommends:
  • Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
This principle reinforces the importance of building relationships with co-workers that Alt Kagesa expressed during our recent ISC retreat. Consider Alt's string analogy in which each individual thread developed as part of our relationships creates a thicker string that won't break during challenging times.
  • Your values must be visible.
In the statement above, John Wooden recommends that we lead by example even to the smallest detail. Chambers cited an example from Wooden's coaching career in which he really stressed that his players keep their shoes tied, and therefore he always followed his own advice. This may seem like a small detail, but Wooden believed small things make the difference and everything connects to the larger picture.
  • Inform others when they violate your standards and values. Teach people how to respond to correction.
Pam Chambers stressed that it is best to be direct and have honest (courageous) conversations when team members do not perform at your expectations. Along with this principle, she mentioned that a good leader can discern when it is time to be firm and when it is time to be flexible. Simply put by Wooden, "know what time it is."
Some rights reserverd by Angel caboodle
One of the final exercises from the HR leadership training with Pam Chambers focused on tips on how to have the honest coaching coversations mentioned above. The first tip calls for clarity in identifying what needs correction and understanding the appropriate time and place in which to address the issue. We should remove any personal bias or emotions and objectively state the concern. Chambers suggests using a three tiered Oreo cookie approach. First, provide sincere, relevant, and specific praise (cookie). Then follow with the essential message about the need for correction (filling), and finish with encouragement (cookie) that the team member will be able to make the adjustment. After giving the other person a chance to respond and coming to an agreement about the solution, Chambers mentions that a good leader is able to stop talking about the issue. Rather than continue to bring up negatives, a leader's best option is to allow space for the correction to be made and to schedule a specific time for follow up.

The main take-away from this training session for me is that leaders should strive for not just clarity, but consistency as well. Most of us appreciate clearly structured work processes and consistent behavior from their leaders inside and outside of work. If presented with clear and consistent goals from people who lead by example, most people will rise to the expectations set for them whether the desired outcome is a small task or a grand project. Pam Chambers left us with a final expression that captures this idea. Wooden often quoted a Zen saying: "the way we do one thing is the way we do everything."

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